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24-31 March 2013 – Incredible India!

9 April, 2013 2 comments

It was a brief visit for us but we saw, did, visited, travelled, tasted, heard, smelt so much that it felt like we were on the road again… It felt good. Sometimes, I had to pinch myself and think hard about our life in London with a flat, a job and all that comes with it to make sure we actually came back.
It felt good to go back to a place we knew and loved.

In short Kwasi and i got on a plane at Heathrow on a snowy Sunday morning and changed for another one in Munich. We were flying Lufthansa and actually really enjoyed it. It is one of those airlines that lets you start your movie as soon as you seat down and until you reach your gate on arrival. They have weird food but you get to have a whole bottle of beer if you ask for beer instead of a small glass of horrible coke.

When we arrived in Delhi, it was 7:40 and it took forever to get our bags and some cash. When wegot out of the terminal we saw a small guy holding a sign with my name. We smiled just looking at the blue sky.
We followed our driver to the parking and on our way to the car he was so distracted that he almost got run over by another car. Then we finally found the car he realised that he lost the ticket so he had to pay a fine to be able to leave the airport parking.
So two hours after landing, we were finally on our way to Jaipur.
It is only 266km far away but the roads are so bad that it took us 5 hours to reach Sunder Palace in Jaipur.

Sunder Palace was the place we stayed at during our first visit in 2011 and we decided to come back just for one thing – their tomato curry!
Their food served on the rooftop restaurant is delicious and so cheap that it is worth staying there just for that. And the rooms are cheap too (about £16 for a night) and clean with TV and air conditioning.

So as soon as we arrived we went for lunch on the terrace and got ready to explore the pink city. We decided to go to the bazaars by rickshaw to get some cheap clothes that we could wear for Holi, the Festival of Colours.

In an auto rickshaw

After a couple of hours of shopping and wandering the streets of Jaipur we got back to the hotel and went to eat another tomato curry!

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There we met Jenn, a American teacher teaching English in Saudi Arabia and on holiday in Jaipur. Kwasi was keen to get people to hang out with for Holi just to make sure we could be a big group. She was a bit weird but still accepted to play Holi with her.

Jasmine garlands Jawal Mahal

The next day is the Elephant Festival held in Jaipur for many years on the day before Holi. Unfortunately, when we were having breakfast we read the papers and we learnt that animal activists had managed to cancel the event because it was bad for the elephants. Great! We actually came all the way to Jaipur because of the festival….

In the morning we tried to find places where we could see the elephants being prepared but the only way to see it was at Amber Fort, just outside the city where they take fat American tourists up to the fort. Maybe the animal activists should worry about that rather than have them play polo once a year!
So we stayed there for a while looking at the brightly decorated elephants coming up and down the fort.

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After that we went back into town to visit the City Palace.

Water palace Turban

We came to the hotel for lunch and a third tomato curry. For the afternoon we decided to still go to the polo ground to see what the Rajasthan Tourist Office prepared for us. Well, they were contingents of folkloric groups dancing and playing instruments. The fun thing was that our rickshaw driver started to play Holi on the way and we got really excited.

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After a very long time, we decided to head into the Pink City again to buy our coloured powders to play Holi tomorrow. At a stall, a kid came to me, said ‘Happy Holi’ and splashed bright pink and purple on my face!

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Holi powders Bike and Holi

Back at the hotel, Kwasi booked car to Pushkar for the next day. The reason being that he talked to a lady who said that alcohol was banned there so the celebrations will be quieter and more “civilised”.

After a good meal, a good night sleep and a big breakfast we got ready for our trip to Pushkar. We met two Australian girls who decided to come with us to play Holi in Pushkar. So Renee, Rebecca, Kwasi and me waited outside the hotel for the car. There the hotel staff and us started to play Holi by chucking powders onto our faces and eating Indian sweets.
We got in the car and after about 20 minutes the driver realised that he got the wrong clients and we had to go back all the way to the hotel to find out that they actually didn’t order a car for us so we waited a good hour before we could leave Jaipur.

Our driver Zaheer Ali was so funny but so fast too. We screamed may times during the journey. It is a good thing he kept telling us that he is a complete race who has a complete driving licence and complete control of the car. This is why we actually ran out of petrol just 5 km outside of Pushkar! By that point, we were so late that we were not amused at all so we left him to deal with the car, found a hotel, ordered a taxi and finally arrived in Pushkar.

The place was crazy! In a square, there were thousands of purple people dancing to trance music blurting out at 2.00pm.

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When we arrived, we got ‘holi’ed a lot by Indians people, pinched here and there and hugged a lot.It was actually not the best feeling in the world. Luckily, an older Indian man told us to go further. At first we were very reluctant but he insisted and he was right. Further down was the place where all the tourists played Holi, it was a lot better and then we started to have some real fun playing Holi with complete strangers. It was the best time we’ve had in a while. Can you believe that you can actually get dirty for fun and not worry about washing afterwards. I have dreamt about this almost all my life. After dancing, playing, eating and sniffing colours, the music stopped and everybody went back to what they were doing.

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We decided to have a look at the sacred lake of Pushkar and it was great. We spent about half on hour on the ghats looking at the locals trying to wash the purple dye away.

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When we were leaving, Ali found us and apologised about the petrol. We actually had to apologise for the state we were in…

The next day was a lot quieter, we got a car to take us to Shekhawati, a place in the desert of Rajasthan were rich merchants built impressive havelis (huge houses). This time our driver was so slow and careful that it took forever to get there.

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We drove first to Nawalgarh were we visited two havelis: Podar Haveli and Baghton Ki Choti Haveli.
One turned into a museum and completely renovated and the other one on the brink of collapse.

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We also had lunch in Nawalgarh where we stopped at the Shekhawati Guest House, which our driver didn’t like at all – he insisted that we ate on the side of the highway… We were the only guests in this airy bungalow in a leafy garden and the lady cooked us the freshest dahl with chapatis and rice. Sorry Mr Jefferson but we don’t regret it, it was delicious!

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Our second and last stop (our driver was so slow that’s all we could see) was Mandawa, a great little town with fabulous havelis. There we visited several: the Naveti Haveli turned into a bank, the Nand Lal Murmuria and the Goenka double Haveli. The nice thing when you visit them is that they have a chowdikar (caretaker-cum-guard) will show you around and give you explanations (for a small fee obviously)

We got back to Jaipur late a night and had our last tomato curry as we were leaving for Delhi the next day.

We got tickets for the 6:00 train and had to take a rickshaw at 5.30 to get there on time. It was so weird to be back in Indian railway stations with our bags so early in the morning.
We were luck enough to have tickets for a nice train with A/C. Renee and Rebecca were on the same train so we decided to share a taxi to New Delhi once we got there.
All four of us went to the Tourist Office at New Delhi station to get tickets to Agra for the Sunday. We couldn’t resist, the Taj Mahal was so close, we had to see it again.

After we got our tickets, we went separate ways them to their hotel in Paharganj and us to our hotel in Connaught Place. We splurged and got a room at the Radisson (really cheap here). After settling in, showering and changing to clean clothes, we waited for the rain to go away to start exploring.
Our first stop was Old Delhi and the Jama Masjid. We arrived too late during our first visit and never got to actually visit it. This time, we saw it and went into it. I had to wear something on top of my clothes – not sure why I was wearing trousers and a long sleeve top…

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After this, we went straight to a local favourite: Karim. It is a great mughal restaurant hidden in a passage down a side street. There are four dining rooms all scattered around the open air kitchen. we got butter chicken, mutton stew and the best naans we’ve ever had. It was delicious food. We really recommend to anyone visiting Old Delhi.

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After lunch, we got a cycle rickshaw to take us to the spice market through the tiniest streets. It was a great experience if comfortable! The spice market was incredible, packed with vehicles, animals, humans, smelly bags of spices, dried fruits and tea.

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We went back to Paharganj after that for some shopping and mehndi – henna on my hands.

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After that experience, we got back to the hotel to relax a bit and ordered room service just to enjoy not going out. Well, very bad idea – this is the only food that got me a Delhi belly!

The next day was very busy – we visited all the sites we didn’t do on our first visit: Qtub Minar and the complex, Safdarjang Tomb, Humayun’s Tomb and finally the Lotus temple. We had lunch at the Dilli Haat, a tourist market with food stalls. We actually ordered Nepalese food: some momos and fried rice.

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For dinner, we went to Kake Da Hotel in Connaught Place and it was the same cuisine as Karim. The place is really horrible, service really poor, tables and cutler sticky but once again the food was amazing. Another recommendation guys.

On our last day, we got a rickshaw to take us to Nizamuddin station where we met Renee and Rebecca for our trip to Agra. After ” hours, we got there and got a car for the day to take us around Agra and its monuments. We were luck to order one without A/C so we had one of these old Padminis.
Our first was the Taj.

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We got to the Western gate and had no aueue at the ticket office or at the entrance, amazing. It was a different story inside, there must have been millions walking down the fountains and around the mausoleum. This doesn’t affect the sight though. It is still one of the best things I have seen in my life – way better that Cristo Redentor in Rio!

After two hours, we went for lunch in Taj Ganj before getting the car to take on the other side of the Yamuna river to take unobstructed photos of the Taj Mahal. You can go to a garden and pay or you can walk to the river which is what we did. If you can’t afford the 750 rupees to visit the Taj Mahal, we recommend this option.

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From there our driver took us to the Baby Taj, or Itimad-ud-Daulah. Much smaller and less famous, it is called the baby Taj, because it is also made of Marble. The better thing here though is that the decorations and inlay work is amazing.

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After that it was time to take the girls back to the station for their train. As for Kwasi and me we went to see the sunset on the Taj Mahal on a rooftop on Taj Ganj. It was beautiful and sad because it was our last night in this amazing place.

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We left our hotel the next morning at 5.00, got the cheap and efficient Airport Express and took off two hours later…

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29th November – A Wonder of the World – Seeing The Taj Mahal!

30 November, 2011 2 comments

Today: We will try and see the second Wonder of the World of our travels – Taj Mahal and also Agra Fort.

Alarm went off at 5am and got ready to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. We had booked an auto-charge to come puck us up to take us there but when we were leaving the owner of our guesthouse said we didn’t need a taxi as the Taj Mahal is only 10mins walk.

On our way, we stopped and bought tickets to the monument for 750 INR each (£9.25). You are given water and a cover for the feet as part if the price. Locals pay 20 INR (24p).

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Got to the queue the sub was rising but we were still queuing and then someone in the cue mentioned, it opens at 6:32, not the 6am we have been told. It is open from sunrise to sunset.

Men, women, Indian nationals and foreigners have their own queue. So we lined up accordingly and the women queue went very fast so Julie had gone through security whilst I waited. Julie was one of the first people through so I gave her the camera to go an take photos before the whole place got crowded. Julie did me very proud, excellent photos.

The Taj Mahal is a magnificent building. As quoted many times in guide books, a Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore described it as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”. It’s just majestic.

Over 20,000 people a day come to visit the beauty made of marble. It was built by Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife (Mumtaz Mahal) who died at the age of 38yrs old after giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. You will find in the monument a marble tomb of both Shah Jahan and his wife.

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After looking around and taking photos for a few hours we took a tuk tuk to Agra Fort for 40 INR.

Agra Fort is a high red-sandstone lying 2pm west of Taj Mahal. Cost 300 INR to get in but if you produce your Taj Mahal ticket you get 50 INR taken off. It was built between 1565 and 1573.

Spent a couples of hours here,had lunch at a place called Only Restaurant and the went back to guesthouse for a bit before leaving by train to New Delhi.

We paid 80 INR’s to Agra Cantt and waited 2 and a half hours on the platform. We feared the worst a we thought we would be in a sardine coach but were pleasantly surprised. We had seats and had somewhere to put our bags.

Met a really lovely girl from New Delhi called Stuti who sat next to us throughout the whole journey and chatted to us, gave us advice And even invited us to her wedding. We exchanged details and will prob become friends in Facebook.

The journey took 3hrs from Agra to Nizamuddin (the last stop), where we got off and got an auto charge to New Delhi. We met a German gilt at where the tuk tusk were parked and asked her to jump in with us as they were ripping her off. Auto-charge cost 200 INR to Delhi and she was being charged 120 INR to a metro a few kilometres away.

He’s been in India two months and had her purse, passport stolen and a bike accident. Spoke to her a bit whilst Julie was sat on the lap of the driver (small car).

Dropped German girl off at the New Delhi station and we drove about 30secs to Vivek Hotel.

We had emailed Vivek hotel 4 days ago to enquire if they had rooms but didn’t hear anything, 2 days later did the same and still no response. So earlier in the day Jukie called them to ask if it was ok, they acknowledged they had Julies name, so why they didn’t respond is unknown to us.

When we arrived we asked if they had a room as we had called earlier to confirm. They had no recollection of this so we showed them the emails we sent and they gave us a room.

The room is ok but just stunk of b.o or someone who had overused their deodorant. It just wasn’t right and made me dizzy. They had no wifi but had cable so we watched James Bond and then slept 11:45. Another 18hr day, a very long day.

Tomorrow we will visit Delhi and see what it has to offer.

En français:

Ce matin, petit problème de réveil, il est toujours a l’heure népalaise donc on est réveilles un quart d’heure plus tôt, ce qui compte quand il est 4h45!

En tout cas, on est bien a l’heure pour l’ouverture du Taj Mahal. De la furet Oise, on va a pieds jusqu’à ce qu’un conducteur de rickshaw nous dise qu’on a rate la billetterie donc on doigteront et sur nos pas, achetr les billets et repartir dans l’autre sens. Quand on arrive a la porte Ouest, il y aun petit peu de monde mais c’est simplement car la porte n’est pas ouverte. Ils ouvrent a l’heure du lever de soleil. Quand ça ouvre enfin a 6h43, un officiel me laisse passer dans la file pour les indiennes donc j’arrive dans les premiers a la fouille puis a la vérification des billets. Kwasi lui est toujours dans la queue donc je prends l’appareil et je cours. Quand j’arrive j’ai le Taj Mahl pour moi toute seule. Du coup, il n’y a pas une personne sur toutes les photos qua j’ai prise au début.

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Ensuite, Kwasi le rejoint et on prends plus de photos. Une fois qu’on est satisfait, on repart au début et on fait la visite avec l’audio-guide.
En gros l’empereur Sha Jahan a fait construire le Taj Mahl pour en faire un mausolée pour sa seconde femme, sa préfèree, Mumtaz Mahal. Il a été construit en 22 ans avec du marbre blanc et des pierres précieuses venues d’Afghanistan, du Sri Lankais etc…
C’était magnifique!

Après deux bonnes heures de visite, on quitte l’enceinte du Taj Mahal et on prend un rickshaw jusqu’au Fort d’Agra, la résidence de l’empereur.

On y reste un peu moins de deux heures. De loin, on peut apercevoir le Taj Mahal mais la pollution n’aident vraiment pas. Le fils de Sha Jahan emprisonne son père dans le fort et il passe le reste de sa vie a regarder le Taj Mahal depuis sa cellule. Quand il meurt se dépouille est déposée a cote de sa femme.

Après le fort, on prend un auto pour aller jusqu’au restaurant Only, recommande dans le guide pour sa sélection.

Après le déjeuner, on retourne la guesthouse pour se reposer et récupérer nos sacs. On part pour la gare de Agra Cantonment un peu moins de trois heures en avance. On doit se poser sur le quai car on n’a pas de billet pour touristes donc on n’a pas le droit de rester dans la salle d’attente pour touristes!

Le quai est sale, les seuls endroits pour s’assoir sont pleins de mouches, il y a des rats, des gens qui crachent et des orphelins tout sales qui mendient. Pendant qu’on attend notre train, j’imagine le pire pour nos sièges car on a pris des billets sans classe!

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Finalement, je suis rassurée car nous sommes dans l’équivalent d’un très vieux TER.
On lutte un peu pour caler nos sacs mais après 5 bonnes minutes de galère on se pose dans nos sièges. Après 10 minutes, une jeune fille s’installe a cote car elle est très curieuse de savoir ce que l’on fait en Inde. Elle, Stuti passe tout le trajet (3 heures!) a nous poser des questions. Elle collectionne les pièces étrangères donc on lui des euros, des bahts et des ponds. En échange, elle m’offre un bracelet. Après plusieurs jeunes de discussion, nous sommes invites a son mariage! Bon elle n’a pas encore été présentée avec un mari mais ça ne devrait pas tarder car elle a 21 ans et elle doit se marier avant 25 ans.

C’était très intéressant de discuter avec elle, on apprend pleins de choses sur les Indiens.
Elle descend du train juste avant nous mais nous donne des adresses a Delhi et des conseils pour la suite de notre séjour!

A Munazeddin station, on descend et on se dirige vers le parking des autos. La on voit une touriste qui monte dans un et on lui dit de partager avec nous. Au final, on paie moitié moins que ce qu’on Abitibi prévu, parfait!

On arrive a Paharganj, le quartier juste en face de la gare de New Delhi et on s’installe dans notre hôtel, Vivek.

On s’endort très vite près le programme de la journée!

Categories: India Tags: , , ,

28th November – Agra and Fatehpur Sikri

29 November, 2011 Leave a comment

Slept on the train last night and woke up very very tired. The drops I took to calm me down worked like a dream but it made me tired as I wanted more sleep.

Arrived in Agra,said goodbye to the two Japanese guys and Dutch girl.

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Took an auto rickshaw to the hotel but not without almost getting into fusty cuffs with drivers. Pushy sakes people and very annoying.

Arrived at Friends guesthouse house, it’s actually the worst place we’ve stayed in on our 3 month trip so far. Got changed and went to Agra Cantt Railway Station to buy a ticket to other places in India.

We bought a tour to Fatehpur Sikri instead for 550 IDR. Part of the cost is guide, water, transport and entrance.

The guide was good but the tour was too rushed and we thought of doing Taj Mahal on the same day but after seeing the tour we decided against it.

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Got dropped off in the middle of no where after the tour and took a taxi back to the train station. We then tried to buy tickets for or journey in India but it didn’t happen. It was crazy, al trains are full so having to stay on waiting lists. At this point we had not eaten so we took an auto-rickshaw to Kamal restaurant.

We ate on the roof and that was magical as we saw the Taj Mahal for the first time. Julie was very emotional and just couldn’t believe it. It was great. Had food and retired back at guesthouse and slept.

Tomorrow we visit Taj Mahal.

En français

Je me réveille plusieurs fois pendant la nuit car j’ai peur de louper notre arrêt. A 5h45, le reveil de Levien sonne donc on se prépare tous les cinq car notre heure d’arrivée est a 5h55.
Au final, on arrive a Agra a 8h! On s’est recouche un peu histoire d’avoir assez d’énergie pour faire ce qu’il a voir a Agra.

Quand on arrive, c’est la cohue des chauffeurs d’auto rickshaw! Il y en a un qui est très agressif mais au final on le prend pour aller jusqu’à notre guesthouse pour 100 roupies.

Quand on arrive a la guesthouse, elle a un nom différent: Friends Paying Guesthouse, au lieu de Friends Guesthouse. Comme on sait qu’il y a plusieurs copies de guesthouses qui marchent bien on se méfie. Du coup je demande a voir leur livre de réservation sans donner mon nom pour m’assurer que c’est bien la bonne. Et oui! Il y a mon nom.

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On se pose vite fait et on prend le petit déjeuner. Ensuite, je tente la douche mais le filet d’eau est quasi inexistant et l’eau froide donc je termine ma douche au robinet!

On part ensuite pour la gare de Agra Cantonment car on veut acheter nos billets de train pour la suite du séjour. Et ben finalement, on réserve deux places pour un tour jusqu’à Fatehpur Sikri, un ancien château inscrit au Patrimoine Mondial de l’Unesco et qui se trouve a 40km d’Agra.

Notre bus part a 11h et on arrive a 12h sur le site. Malheureusement, notre visite est tres bousculée par le guide qui nous presse sans arrêt pour qu’on ne prenne pas de photos, qu’on aille va voir ceci ou cela… En fait, il s’agit d’un tour qui fait ce site le matin puis le fort d’Agra et le Taj Mahal dans la même journée! On aurait pu y passer une heure de plus au moins mais le programme a fait qu’on est partis a 13h30 pour aller déjeuner dans un resto attrape-touriste (on ne ‘s’est pas fait prendre!) et a 14h, on repart pour Agra!

On est bloques pendant pas mal de temps a un passage a niveau et du coup les gens qui ont réserve le tour entier vont devoir visiter le fort et le Taj Mahal en 2 heures! Nous on descend au milieu de nulle part pour aller jusqu’à la gare acheter nos billets de train pour Delhi et si possible pour le reste du séjour.

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Réserver des billets de train en Inde est un sport national. Il faut aller au bureau de réservation et lutter contre les Indiens qui ne font pas la queue. Une fois, que vous avez le numéro du train il faut aller a un autre guichet pour acheter le billet. Mais évidemment, le train que vous voulez est plein (toujours, toujours plein!) donc il faut chercher un autre train donc un nouveau numéro et ainsi de suite. On vous dit de ne pas prendre les billets en avance car il y a des problèmes avec les trains (retard, annulations etc…) mais quand vous voulez prendre un billet, les trains sont tous pleins, allez comprendre!
Bref, on a un billet pour Delhi, un autre en liste d’attente pour Jaipur et enfin un entre Jaipur et Jodhpur. Pour la suite, on vous dira après!

Comme on n’a pas déjeune, on décide de diner tôt dans le quartier de Taj Ganj, a quelques kilomètres du Taj Mahal. On monte les marches de l’hôtel Kamal et la qu’est ce qu’on aperçoit depuis le toit? Oui, le Taj Mahal en chair et en os! Impressionant!

On dine sur le toit et je n’arrête pas de me retourner pour apercevoir le fameux bâtiment.

Malheureusement (ou heureusement), il n’est pas éclaire la nuit pour des raisons de sécurité donc on ne le voit pas très longtemps.

On rentre a la guesthouse et on se couche car demain on a rendez-vous très tôt avec le Taj Mahal.

Categories: India Tags: , , ,